US to enhance Taiwan’s F-16A/B combat power

Even though Taiwan has failed to procure 60 new American F-16C/D fighter planes it had actively sought for years, on September 21, the US government informed Taiwan that it will retrofit Taiwan’s existing 145 F-16A/Bs by enhancing their performance. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has sent the arms sales case to Congress for review, reported the Central News Agency.

President Ma Ying-jeou expressed his appreciation upon hearing of the upgrade to the island’s F-16A/B fighter jets. The action demonstrates US commitment to carry out the Taiwan Relations Act and its concern with maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait, he said.

Though President Ma pointed out that Taiwan will not compete with China in an arms race, he also emphasized that the island will continue in its bid to purchase F-16C/D fighters. Taiwan needs to buy new weapons to replace its aging arsenal and to upgrade its national defense to a level whereby Taipei can be more confident in its negotiations with China. The president stressed that “we have never ignored national defense. Although we want peaceful development with the mainland, Taiwan has never overlooked its security.”

The United Evening News reported the American package for the performance improvement of the F-16A/B includes advanced active electronically scanned array radar (AESA). Taiwan’s Air Force deputy chief of Staff Major General Chu An-nan said, with the assembly of new AESA radar, the upgraded F-16 A/B will enjoy the advantage of significantly increased detection capability. In fact, according to a press release from Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, “when the retrofit is completed, our F-16A/B capability would be equal to 80% of those of the F-16C/Ds” and that some items selected in the retrofit program will have better performance than those of current US Air Force F-16C/Ds.

According to a report from the Taiwan-based Broadcasting Corporation of China in Taiwan, Foreign Minister Timothy Chin-tien Yang stressed that the Taiwan government will not be satisfied with only upgrading its existing F-16A/Bs. The retrofit and the purchase of F-16C/Ds are different cases, he said. Taiwan will continue to negotiate the purchase of the F-16C/D and other defensive weapons.

Raymond Burghardt, chairman of American Institute in Taiwan said that the upcoming F-16A/B aircraft upgrades put them on par with first-class fighter jets. Besides, most of the work will be carried out in Taiwan thus providing employment opportunities there. Burghardt said the total value of the military deal, plus the previous US$6.4 billion American military sales announced in January 2010, will reach US$12 billion. The statistics show that the Obama administration, in office for three years, has already reached 80 percent of the total American arms sales to Taiwan in comparison to the eight-year Bush administration, reported the Taipei-based China Times.

The Department of Defense stressed that the budget for this military procurement will take 12 years to implement.

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